Five Elements of a Successful Agent Recruiting Program

Greg Levine

Agent recruiting is hardly a hot topic these days. With so many people out of work and in need of jobs, most companies feel the call center won’t have any trouble filling seats if needed. But customer satisfaction and advocacy – the ultimate goal of nearly all call centers – is not about merely filling seats; it’s about filling seats with people who have the skills, knowledge, adaptability and commitment to make customers not want to strike them.

True, some such sought-after people will be among the glut of applicants who come knocking on your center’s door in search of a job. But why not be proactive and target such qualified individuals as part of a focused, strategic recruiting program? The best call centers I’ve seen do just that, and consequently save themselves a lot of time and urine-testing in the initial hiring phase.


Five Elements of a Successful Agent Recruiting Program

Incorporate the following elements into your agent recruitment efforts, and I guarantee that you will endure far fewer resumes written in crayon or applicants who incessantly drool.

1) "Ideal agent" profiles. Before beginning the actual agent hunt, leading call centers take the time to document exactly what they are hunting for. They do this by creating an "ideal agent" profile for each position (customer service, tech-support, sales, e-support, social media, etc.) they are seeking to fill. This entails listing the key attributes of their top-performing existing agents, realizing that all those agents just applied for jobs in Marketing, and then panicking that you’ll never find reps as good as them.

When creating your ideal agent profile, be sure to seek input from supervisors and experienced agents. Doing so not only results in a more comprehensive profile, it shows staff that the company truly values them despite damaging their wrists, eyes and spine on a daily basis.

Keep in mind that it isn’t necessary for all applicants to match every attribute on the ideal agent profile; it’s great if they do, but it’s also unlikely. Be happy if you can attract applicants who match even just a few of the key attributes, who show the potential to learn/obtain some of the others, and who don’t smell like onions.

2) Employee referrals – with results-based incentives. It may be a traditional and old-school method, but it’s still around for a reason. According to call center professionals in various studies, employee referrals are the most effective, reliable and affordable recruiting method at their disposal. This is not all that surprising; after all, misery loves company. Thus it’s only natural for over-stressed agents to want to drag their best friends down into their personal occupational hell along with them.

To help pare down the number of unqualified referrals submitted by staff, forward-thinking call centers offer small cash incentives (or other alluring perk) to agents whose referrals end up being offered and accepting a job. In some centers, additional incentives are often provided when the person the agent referred performs at a high level, stays with the job for a pre-determined minimum amount of time (more than three days), and never once sobs on the phone with a customer.

3) E-cruiting. No recruiting program in these digital days is complete without the use of web-based methods. "E-cruiting" is essential, not only because it reaches more candidates than traditional recruiting practices and saves time and trees, but also because most people worth attracting and hiring today ONLY seek jobs online. The most talented younger members of the workforce eat, drink and sleep the Internet, and they want a company that embraces the same cool and inhuman communication methods and channels that they have grown up on. Therefore, top call centers today post job listings on their own corporate website, third-party corporate websites (e.g., CareerBuilder, Monster, Simply Hired), popular social media sites, as well as call center-specific hiring/consulting sites (e.g., ICMI, CEM Professionals).

In addition to getting more reach for your recruiting buck, e-cruiting is very helpful in screening candidates early on for email and chat writing skills as well as for their ability to analyze online content and instructions. Any candidate who, during the application process, demonstrates the inability to spell or use proper grammar, or who uses "LOL" even just once in a text-based interaction, should be immediately eliminated from the running for work in the call center and instead passed on to the manager in charge of hiring public relations personnel.

4) IVR-based recruiting. Many call centers use their interactive voice response (IVR) system for more than just annoying and alienating customers; they use it to promote job openings, too. Yes, typically the goal is to get customers in and out of the IVR as quickly as possible (unless they are making an automated transaction that makes the company money); however, hold-times are inevitable – so why not make it up to waiting customers by offering them a job? In this economy, half of them probably need one. "Press 1 to access your account; press 2 to speak to a live agent; press 3 if you are unemployed or hate your boss."

5) "Stealing" staff from local call centers. Some centers take a "this town ain’t big enough for the both of us" approach when it comes to competing with other local call centers for talent. Targeting other call centers’ agents may seem a bit cutthroat, but let’s face it – individuals with ample customer care experience are at a premium, thus it’s worth at least trying to lure local agents over to your side of the street.

Leading call centers do this in as subtle and as graceful a manner as possible. Drugging and/or kidnapping are used merely as a last resort.

Effective agent-luring approaches that won’t land anyone in jail include:

  • Offering a work-at-home opportunity to talented agents in the region.
  • Encouraging your existing agents to talk-up your center and brag about how spectacular the carpeting and lighting is.
  • Advertising how your call center uses the most humane methods whenever an agent needs to be put down.
  • Regularly spraying the outside of your call center with the scent of fresh donuts.

Plenty more information on best practices in agent recruiting and assessment are covered in my ebook, Full Contact.